The Homecoming of Samuel Lake – Book Review

Swan gasped loudly and was standing there now with her hand over her mouth, wishing she could take back the sound. She had a feeling that drawing Ballenger’s attention to your existence was like prodding a cottonmouth moccasin with your bare foot. A cottonmouth is deadly poisonous, and it will come after you. It will strike from behind. – from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, page 39 –

Swan Lake is eleven years old. The summer she arrives with her mother, Willadee, and two brothers at her grandmother Calla’s home for their yearly family reunion starts off like every other year. But, when her grandfather commits suicide, and her father, Samuel, loses his job as a Methodist minister, the Lake family is forced to move into Calla Moses’ home. Swan finds herself drawn to her Uncle Toy (married to the deceptive and unfaithful Bernice) whose history includes losing a leg in the war and possibly murdering a man with his bare hands. Then she meets eight year old Blade Ballenger and his evil father, Ras – a man who is cruel and abusive to his wife, son and the animals who cross his path. Swan’s friendship with Blade will bring disaster to the Moses and Lake families…and forever change their futures.

Set in 1950s Arkansas, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake explores good vs. evil, faith, and the ties which bind families together. Swan, the precocious and outspoken daughter of a preacher, steals the show in this novel. Her faith in goodness and outrage at the wrongs in the world inadvertently put her in harm’s way – something that is alluded to early on in the book. It is Swan who drives the narrative and who unites the other characters in the story line. Other characters who were strongly developed in the novel include Uncle Toy – a man who longs for family and finds it in his niece and nephews; and Blade – a boy who symbolizes abused children everywhere. Samuel, Swan’s father, struggles with his faith and God’s purpose in his life and was not my favorite character – perhaps because of his constant proselytizing along with  the blind faith which prevents him from recognizing the danger that threatens his children until it is too late.

Samuel was not to be swayed. He had a way of looking at the world that worked for him, and he was convinced that it would work for all mankind. – from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, page 220 –

Ras Ballenger is Satan reincarnated in this book. In many ways, he becomes a caricature of evil – a person so bad that he is beyond redemption.

Jenny Wingfield does an admirable job in recreating a mid-century Southern family. The food, community, gossip, and landscape all come together to firmly place the reader in the South during a time in history when reliance on faith and belief in family were strong.

I enjoyed this novel, although at times I had to suspend reality to believe the unfolding plot. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I will just say that not all readers will be convinced by the behavior of the characters as the book winds down to its conclusion.

Ultimately the strengths of the novel – good writing, strong female characters, and setting – outweighed any weaknesses. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake has some difficult moments of violence which may disturb sensitive readers. But, in the end this novel is a feel good book which will appeal to readers who enjoy exploring themes of faith and family.

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Don’t take my word for it – read more reviews of this book by following the links from the TLC Book Tours page.

Read a guest post by the author and enter to win a copy of the book.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog as part of TLC Book Tours.

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  1. I think I’d enjoy this one for the Southern setting and the strong female characters.

  2. I had been considering this one, but the violence really might be too much for me, so I think I am going to have to pass. This was a great review, though!

  3. Strong female characters are a definite plus for me in any book.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour Wendy.

    1. I listened to this last month and thought it was amazing. Best book I’ve read since The Help. But, yes. Ras was evil as sin. I cringed several times. Listening to his voice (which was so well-depicted on the audio) made my skin crawl.

        • Wendy on March 24, 2012 at 07:43

        Glad you enjoyed this one, Les 🙂 I think sometimes books have a different feel on audio than when read!

    • Janet Blohm on August 13, 2012 at 19:41

    No I am not a fan of this book. All was great until the action with Ras and Swan at the end. This event was too jarring for the tone of the book and felt like a false plot turn for a dramatic conclusion. Sam’s actions went against everything he stood for and Swan was a spunky kid that has now been destroyed. Toy going away for so long also was written like it was a fine fitting conclusion, and all this neatly written in the last section of the book. It was a very poor wrap up for an otherwise lovely exciting story.

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